Erdogan calls for 'international peace force' to protect Palestinians after dozens killed by Israeli forces

Tom Embury-Dennis

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for an “international peace force” to protect Palestinians after dozens were shot dead by Israeli forces on the Gaza border.

Speaking at the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which was hosted in Istanbul on Friday, Mr Erdogan said Israel should be held accountable for the killings.

“To take action for Palestinians massacred by Israeli bandits is to show the whole world that humanity is not dead,” Mr Erdogan said, according to Al Jazeera.

Muslim leaders pledged to take “appropriate political [and] economic measures” against countries that followed the US in moving their Israel embassies to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Mr Erdogan, who is campaigning for re-election next month, used the summit to verbally attack Israel, comparing the actions of its forces to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews in the Second World War, when millions were killed in concentration camps.

He also castigated America, saying its decision to move its embassy had emboldened Israel to put down the protests at the border with Gaza with excessive force.

Most countries say the status of Jerusalem – a sacred city to Jews, Muslims and Christians – should be determined in a final peace settlement between Israel and Palestinians and that moving their embassies now would prejudge any such deal.

Donald Trump’s step to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there reversed decades of US policy, upsetting the Arab world and Western allies.

Guatemala this week became the second country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, and Paraguay said it would follow suit this month.

The final declaration of the meeting of the OIC described the killing of 60 Palestinians, protesting against the embassy move on Monday, as “savage crimes committed by the Israeli forces with the backing of the US administration”.

It said the violence should be put on the agenda of the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and called on the United Nations to investigate the killings.

The summit was attended by Jordan’s King Abdullah, a US ally whose Hashemite dynasty is custodian of Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

King Abdullah said the US decision five months ago to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had “weakened the pillars of peace ... and deepened the despair that leads to violence”.

Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani called on Muslim countries “to totally cut their relations with the Zionist regime and also to revise their trade and economic ties with America”.

A populist with roots in political Islam, Mr Erdogan has described Israel as a “terrorist state”.

“The children of those being subject to all sorts of torture in concentration camps during World War II are now attacking Palestinians with methods that would put Nazis to shame,” Mr Erdogan said on Friday, shortly after addressing a rally of thousands of people in support of Palestinians.

The UN must send “an international peace force to the people of Palestine, who are losing their young children to Israeli terror every day”, Mr Erdogan said, comparing the proposed deployment to peacekeeping forces sent to Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s.

The violence in Gaza led to Turkey and Israel expelling each other’s senior diplomats this week. Mr Erdogan has also traded barbs on Twitter with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel, however, was the 10th largest market for Turkish exports in 2017, buying some $3.4bn (£2.52bn) of goods, according to International Monetary Fund statistics.

“We have excellent economic ties with Turkey. And these relations are very important for both sides,” Israeli finance minister Moshe Kahlon told Israel Radio on Friday when asked if Israel should break ties with Turkey.

The plight of Palestinians resonates with many Turks, particularly the nationalist and religious voters who form the base of support for Mr Erdogan, who has been in power, as prime minister and then president, for 15 years.

Additional reporting by agencies